There was a brief window heading into the summer of 2015 when all kinds of food-focused publications were ready to declare cold brewed cocoa the next big drink trend. Then it really wasn’t.
We’re not totally sure who was first behind the cold brew cocoa buzz that year — a crown year for enlightenment in the cold coffee market among specialty coffee sellers — though one particularly memorable heralding came by way of Quartz, which did a big, splashy feature on the history of cocoa brewed cold.
In short, cold brew cocoa essentially follows the same principles and recipes as cold brew coffee, except instead of ground coffee that sits with filtered water at room- or refrigerated-temperatures for X amount of time, it is typically ground cacao nibs. The resulting beverage is not overly sweet and milk-laden like traditional hot cocoa, but more nuanced and subtle, while begging for use as a base for cocktail or mocktail type drinks.
Some high-end chocolatiers, coffee purveyors and tea shops have indeed been experimenting with cold brew cocoa for years, but a new market trends analysis from the market research firm Mintel suggests cold brew cocoa’s moment in the specialty beverage spotlight may actually be now — as opposed to two years ago — following a major release from Starbucks and increased attention on the potential health benefits of specialty drinks.
“The tea and coffee markets have each successfully made the jump from hot to cold drink, the former most recently with the cold brew and nitro coffee trends,” Mintel Global Food and Drinks Analyst Alex Beckett wrote in the analysis last week. “Now, cocoa may be braced to make a similar transition into the chilled drinks fixture.”
Beckett argues that Starbucks’ launch of a “Cold Brew Cocoa and Honey” bottled beverage this spring, though more of a traditional cold brew coffee with added ingredients, has helped propel consumer consciousness of the cold cocoa concept, while creating some mental separation between chocolate and cocoa as drinks ingredients.
The analysis also points to the potential yet largely unproven benefits of cocoa nibs as drinks ingredients. Cocoa is well-known to be high in theobromine, an alkaloid and stimulant that has been shown to dilate blood vessels and to potentially decrease blood pressure or positively affect mood, while also acting as a diuretic and stimulant that can have the same kind of potential negative effects associated with caffeine.
“At the heart of the relationship between health and chocolate is the cocoa content, and the higher the percentage of cocoa, the bigger the associated better-for-you benefits,” the analysis stated. “In Europe, there is significant consumer interest in seeing more chocolate which retains the nutrients of the cocoa beans. With this in mind, there could be opportunities for cold brew cocoa to communicate the level of cocoa content, or provenance of the cocoa. For various reasons, the cold brewed coffee boom is struggling to replicate its US success in Europe, but maybe the allure of chocolate will help cold brew cocoa find greater success.”